Elegant entrance to the holiday season

The annual Lights On Celebration was Saturday in downtown Hollister. Here, Abby Chase portrays the Snow Princess in the parade.

The booming voice of Chuck Obeso-Bradley echoed along San Benito Street as he kicked off a night of marching bands, cars transporting waving local dignitaries, and an array of entrants festooned in twinkling Christmas lights with smiling grownups and children.
“Welcome everyone and thank you for joining us for the 25th Annual Lights on Celebration!” he proclaimed.
Sitting beside his fellow announcer, Mary Damm, Obeso-Bradley thanked, on behalf of the Hollister Downtown Association, the businesses that made the celebration possible. Both are repeat announcers from past events. Damm is well known for her involvement with the local Boy Scouts, and among Obeso-Bradley’s involvements is volunteering as a mentor to newly diagnosed cancer patients.
He directed everyone’s attention down the street to a diminutive prancing figure leading the long line of participants, a fictional character called Jamie the Elf penned by local resident Kathleen Sheridan, who has brought many acts of kindness to San Benito County. For the 25th Celebration, Marissa Escamilla, 11, played Jaime the Elf.
The Lights on Celebration wasn’t just about a very long and very cold parade. The day began with a Holiday Boutique held inside Veterans Memorial Building and a car show display on Seventh Street featuring the winner of the at the Street Festival of Best Car Club Participation, the Norcal B-Bodies, whose members favor older Chevrolet Impalas. Throughout the day, there was free music and dance performances from Mr. O’s Academy of Music band; the Itzpapalotl Aztec Dancers; the Animation Dance Community; the Hawaiian performers, Hula Halau O’Pi’lani; the Inspire Performing Arts Academy; and the Ranch Maze Band.
“Overall, we are extremely pleased with the event,” said Teri Escamilla, event coordinator. “We heard from plenty of people in the crowd, including one of our original committee members, that it was the biggest crowd they’d ever seen.”
Escamilla estimated nearly 10,000 people lined up on both sides of the street to brave the bitter cold to watch the parade.
“We’re already thinking ahead to next year’s event,” she said the day after the celebration. “We’ll have a wrap-up meeting this week and the committee of 11 people will regroup.”
It’s no small affair to pull off an event that includes 75 participating organizations in the parade. There will be a parade director, a holiday boutique chairperson, another chair to organize entertainment, a sound technician, the coordination of hundreds of volunteers, a photographer for the pictures with Santa after the parade, organization with the City of Hollister, the Public Works Department, and the Hollister Police Department.
“We have to make reservations early on securing permits from the city to close the street and from the county for the food vendors,” she said. “We also get a permit through the high school because our equestrian groups are staged there. We reserve the Baler Alley parking lot. We also work with a golf cart group that lets us borrow the carts so the parade director can run up and down the parade route.”
Not to be forgotten in long-range planning is to make sure garbage is picked up and there are enough port-a-potties.
“If it wasn’t the biggest parade ever, it was right up there,” she said. “It was definitely at capacity. We had 75 entries and actually had to eliminate a couple entries because it was just exceeding our limit. One of the things we’ve done in the last couple of years is have some characters in the parade, like Corduroy Bear, Maisy Mouse, which are known to the children through Public Television.”
She had high praise for the four announcers: Chuck Obeso-Bradley and Mary Damm, at the Veterans Memorial Building, along with Peggy Pierce and Will Sutton, at 5th Street.
“All are veterans to our parade,” she said. “They do a fantastic job for us. They’re wonderful community-minded volunteers.”
The main reason for the event, she said, is to bring the community together in the downtown area.
“Because it was the 25th anniversary we tried to look for extra things,” she said. “There are four garlands across San Benito Street. In light of the theme, we added silver bells to the garland. We have 75 trees downtown that are sponsored by different families or groups that are all lit. And we have 26 Christmas wreaths that are also sponsored and lit.”
She said there is also a big financial payoff.
“We invite all the downtown businesses to participate however they choose,” she said. “The restaurants told us they were very busy before and after the event. There were lines coming out of Mars Hill and the Chinese restaurant, Cheung Sheng, was very busy Saturday night. So it definitely helped the local economy.”
She said the committee incorporated more community involvement this year.
“We reached out to some of the community non-profits,” she said. “Twelve Days of Giving had free hot chocolate; there was the Salvation Army truck; there was holiday singing by the San Benito Oriana Choral after the parade near Mars Hill; the San Benito Arts Council had their reception for their children’s art exhibition at their gallery; and San Benito Stage Company provided popcorn at Fifth Street.
“There was also the Acts of Kindness, which is a program that began through Kathy Sheridan, who has been with the Lights on Celebration from the beginning, who wrote a book, Jaime the Elf, and Jamie led the parade. In the story, she has to perform acts of kindness to get a badge from Santa. That program has gone on into the schools to ask the teachers if they would like to participate. The students submit forms to submit an act of kindness.”
There were over 300 entries this year, she said. Of those, eight children were selected and they walked in the parade.

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